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Can Valve Innovate Gaming Hardware?

A new job posting makes it semi-official. How about that rumored “Steam Box”?
September 6, 2012

I’m delighted whenever I have an opportunity to write on this blog about Valve, a gaming company that has afforded me many hours of pleasure with the two games in its “Portal” series. On top of having produced a couple of the best video games of all time, Valve also is the force behind Steam, the gaming distribution platform that has been a boon for indie game designers and their customers. So when Valve hints at a new product in the works, I listen.

The company, which has in the past focused on software, seems increasingly likely to get into the hardware business, report several outlets. Specifically, the company has posted a job notice for an industrial designer (also, they’re looking to hire a psychologist, but that’s for a different blog). Write the folks at Valve:

“Valve is traditionally a software company. Open platforms like the PC and Mac are important to us, as they enable us and our partners to have a robust and direct relationship with customers. We’re frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space though, so we’re jumping in. Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years. There’s a real void in the marketplace, and opportunities to create compelling user experiences are being overlooked.”

That’s intriguing intriguing. A few months ago, reports had emerged to the effect that Valve might be dipping a toe into hardware, with talk of a “Steam Box” (see “Is Valve Making a Console?”). And just the other week, Valve CEO Gabe Newell raised the stakes when he accused Windows 8 of being a “catastrophe” for PC game developers (see “Can Windows 8 Win Over Game Developers?”). But despite these signs that Valve was expressing an interest in hardware, the company actually shot down some of these rumors not too long ago, saying that the company was “a long way” from shipping any sort of hardware. But it seems clear they’re making it more than a casual concern.

Though Valve’s foray into hardware is sometimes framed as a salvo against Microsoft, it’s interesting to note similarities between the rhetoric of both companies. Just as Valve says it’s a software company that’s frustrated by a lack of innovation in hardware, so has Microsoft said pretty much the same thing with its introduction of the Surface tablet (see “Microsoft: Keep Making Hardware”).

I don’t know what a “Steam Box” or any other piece of Valve hardware would look like just yet, but simply based on the company’s product history and what I’ve read of its workplace culture, I trust them to come up with something good. (How can a company whose handbook reads like this not yield something innovative?) One commenter over at the Verge pretty much sums up my thoughts: “If there’s one company I will always trust to get things right the first time, Valve fits the bill. Here’s to hoping they really blow our minds just like… every other time they release something.”

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